Tahini Date Shortbread

Tahini Date ShortbreadTahini Date Shortbread

They say “everything is better with Coke.” For me, everything is better with chocolate.  And dates.  That’s how I ended up baking not just tahini shortbread, but tahini chocolate shortbread… and tahini date shortbread.  Both irresistible, especially the latter.

Tahini Date Shortbread

It turns out, dates and tahini are a classic combination. But first, let’s go back to the beginning…

I grew up eating halvah, the sesame based confection, usually bought as slices from large slabs sold in shops on New York City’s Lower East Side. In its simplest form, it is a paste made from ground sesame seeds and sugar, with extra ingredients depending on who is making it and where (glucose, soapwort root, vanilla, pistachios, etc.).  The sesame seeds alone, once they are roasted, soaked, hulled and pressed, become tahini, an ingredient perhaps most well-known in hummus or baba ghannouj. It is often compared to peanut butter too, spread on bread. But I only knew it in the context of halvah and hummus until recently.

Anissa Helou, a friend and expert on the cuisines of the Mediterranean and Middle East, knowing my love for dates, told me to try them stuffed with tahini. (She shares how tahini is made on her blog, fascinating to see.) And Johanna, the Passionate Cook had commented on my Ode to Dates with: “In war-ridden Iraq this was the only available dessert or sweet thing ? a spoonful of tahini with date molasses? very addictive.” Mayssam Samaha, of Will Travel For Food, assured me this was a very common sweet treat in Lebanon, where she grew up. Clearly I needed to get some tahini, and try this all out.

Tahini Date Shortbread

Tahini had been on my mind to bake with for a while. There were Meeta Khurana Wolff’s raspberry tea macarons with tahini dark chocolate cream. Then there were Dan Lepard’s halva flapjacks with the addition of dates or figs, and yet another recipe that caught my eye online for tahini shortbread. Yet more inspiration came from another Lebanese friend in Brighton.  After a delicious feast by Bethany Kehdy of Dirty Kitchen Secrets, I was let loose in her kitchen for dessert. And what did I find… a jar of halawa.  Is that halvah, I asked? Indeed it is, known as halawa in the Levant. At which point, seeing my eyes light up, and being shocked that I thought of it as dessert, she asked if she could make me a snack.  Advice: if you ever find yourself in this scenario, just say yes.

Round flatbread was quickly topped with (a lot of) crumbled halawa and pomegranate molasses drizzled on top.  Into the oven it went for 5 minutes, until the halvah was warm and slightly melted, and the pita crisp. It was sublime, for its mix of flavors (sweet and sour) and textures, and combining both the familiar and totally exotic. Apparently Arabic flatbread spread with halawa and rolled up is a common treat for kids on their way to school in Lebanon. This took that up a notch in sophistication for sure.

TahiniTahini & Dates

There are a few sesame based desserts I’ll always remember in New York City too. One year, I requested Taboon as my birthday restaurant for its silan sundae: vanilla ice cream and date honey sprinkled with caramelized pistachios and shredded halvah. (They also currently have the “Perfect Halva: frozen halva custard and dolce de leche, milk chocolate cornflake crunch and halvah sauce, served in a chocolate hemisphere.”) And there was Bill Yosses’ outstanding sesame sundae at Bôi: sesame gelato (from Il Laboratorio del Gelato), tahini loosened with cream, ribbons of caramel, toasted sesame seeds and chunks of halvah.

With tahini on the brain, and a pairing with dates inevitable, my shortbread quickly came to be. It was perfect with an espresso (for my husband), a cup of tea, or ice cream (for me). I’m seeing a lot more baking with tahini in my near future, especially in cookies (have I ever mentioned that I love cookies ?!), or ice cream creations.  Dipping flatbread into tahini drizzled with date molasses is a current favorite snack as well.  But as Anissa also mentioned, she even prefers tahini with grape (or carob) molasses, which is a bit thicker.  Sounds like a Middle Eastern spin on a peanut and butter jelly sandwich to me…!

Tahini Date ShortbreadTahini Date Shortbread

Tahini Date Shortbread
makes 16 triangles

3/4 cup (170 grams) butter, softened
1/2 cup tahini
1 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups flour + extra for dates
8 Medjool dates, chopped into small pieces (you can replace dates with other ingredients like chocolate or nuts)
Handful of sesame seeds

Place dates in freezer so they will be easier to chop. (Otherwise, they’ll just stick to each other and to the knife.) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius). Butter two 7 or 8 inch round pans.

Blend butter and tahini with an electric mixer or in a food processor. Add sugar and salt and blend until smooth. Add flour and blend again. Take the dates out of the freezer, remove pits and roughly chop. Toss with flour so they do not stick to each other and will be distributed evenly in batter. Mix into batter. Divide evenly among the two pans. Press with hands until flat and smooth. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Score with a knife, making 4 cuts to finish with 8 triangles.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until slightly dark around the edges and dry in the center. Let cool for 5-10 minutes, then using a knife, carefully separate the triangles while still in the pan. Let cool completely before removing.

Tahini Date Shortbread

32 Responses to “Tahini Date Shortbread”

  1. elra says:

    Simply irresistible, original and quite tempting !

  2. Jack says:

    wow…looks wonderful…I will have to give these a try (without the butter of course)…

  3. Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday says:

    I love the combination of tahini and molasses with dates. The dark brown sugar probably gives it a molasses-y taste eh?

  4. Duncini says:

    Now the world looks like a happy place.

  5. Marlen says:

    Hi Kerrin, that first picture, so yummy! Wish I could reach out and take a bite 🙂

    Jack, I’m curious, how would you make shortbread without butter (which is the main ingredient)?

  6. valentina says:

    Dear Kerrin, the passion of your writing is just so contagious. I could read your posts over and over again. and I’ve done that with some of them. The love you have for your subject is extraordinary. i very much like a lot of the items mentioned here. But I have never had them in a combo. Wow Beth’s snack seems awesome. Truly delicious.

  7. Kerrin says:

    elra, thank you !

    Samantha, so you’re a tahini fan too ? Oh then definitely try these shortbread. The dark brown sugar definitely adds more of a molasses flavor to them than if you used regular sugar or even light brown. But it’s mellowed thanks to the dates, and it’s more nutty than molasses-y (to use your word :)) because of the tahini. Go for it, and let me know if you do.

    Duncini, the world is definitely a happy place when there are goodies like these coming out of the oven. 😉

    Marlen, you’ll have to make them – and reach out and grab them for real ! Let me know if you do. And I agree, I’m curious to hear about Jack’s butter-less shortbread.

    So Jack… how would you make this recipe ? And thanks for the positive comment !

    valentina, your comments are always so wonderful, muito obrigada !! If you can find halvah and pomegranate molasses, you should try Beth’s “halawa pizza” – it really is fantastic. Hope you are well ! Thanks again.

  8. mayssam says:

    Love, love, love the story and those cookies look deliciously sinful! I’ve never baked with tahini but I foresee some of these cookies in my near future! I have all those ingredients in my pantry! 🙂 And thanks so much for the mention! 🙂

  9. Bethany (Dirty Kitchen Secrets) says:

    These are some good looking tahini shortbreads… and i remember our convo in the kitchen when you also suggested the tahini ice cream which strangely enough I was trying to concoct in my mind last night. I must must get on with that for sure… What a lovely post and thanks for reminding of that wonderful evening again 🙂 xx

  10. Jack says:

    @Kerrin and @Marlen… Butter-less shortbread…I agree, that can sound a bit strange because we are so used to butter as the choice of fat in recipes. Shortbread’s historical make-up is basically 1x sugar, 2x butter and 3x flour. The butter in this case is the ‘fat’ which shortens the gluten strands when mixed – hence the term ‘short’ bread. The shortened gluten strands make the flaky texture of the shortbread. This same idea would apply, however, to any fat used which is why it is so easy to substitute an oil for butter in most baking recipes… In my case, I successfully made whole wheat shortbread using olive oil. The texture is virtually identical, although the rich butter flavor is obviously missing. On the other hand, the lightness of of the final product is noticeable because an oil will enhance the other flavor ingredients like the flour or other things like herbs… Give it a try…

  11. Bethany (Dirty Kitchen Secrets) says:

    Welll wellll welll I had to comment again because well I spy a spotted spooooon 🙂 I do love this post and I agree with Valentina I love your writing style! But you knew that already 🙂 xx

  12. Katrin says:

    And lucky me gets to run to the kitchen and have a bite of each!!!

  13. Cherine says:

    Those shortbreads must taste so good!

  14. Lani says:

    I have just one thing to say…..where is my sample treat? Your photographs are so enticing that I want to pull a tahini shortbread treat right out of the computer. I love that you are so creative with your ingredients. It is so very inspiring!

  15. Marlen says:

    @Jack, thank you for the feedback. Will definitely give it a try. I have a chili sesame oil (for a savoury shortbread)…

  16. Kerrin says:

    mayssam, why you are very welcome mon amie ! 🙂 And yes, you most definitely have to make these shortbread – now that I know you have all the ingredients, no excuse. And the weekend is here – baking time ! I can’t wait to hear what you think…

    Bethany, it definitely was a fantastic evening together, I must get back to Brighton. And when I do, perhaps I’ll be tasting your homemade tahini ice cream ! 😉 Thank you so much for the fabulous comments B. And you know I do love my spotted spoon !!

    Jack, thank you so much for sharing your shortbread expertise. What an excellent explanation and one that has me so ready to make whole wheat olive oil shortbread ! I’m so curious to see how it compares to the more traditional butter version, and really see that the texture remains the same. Always learning something new with you, thank you !

    Katrin, what ?!?! You mean to tell me that there are shortbread left after 4 days ?! I didn’t even leave you with that many. Oh boy, we have some dessert training to do on you… haha ! Hope you liked ’em !

    Cherine, oh they definitely did ! I think I’ll be making more soon in fact…!

    Lani, thank you !

    Marlen, what a great idea to use chili sesame oil. I can’t wait to hear about your butterless shortbread. 🙂

  17. kelleyn says:

    I have had seasme seed cookies before from Martha Stewarts recipe, so I am sure these must be fantastic. The dates must make them sweeter. Have a fantastic week!

  18. Julia @ Mélanger says:

    Wow, you have done it again. A great, innovative post. I remember the first time I had halvah was from B&D deli on Beacon in Brookline. I loved it but I love those flavours. I actually just have a fresh jar of tahini in the pantry right now. There’s this interesting Beirut Tahini Swirls I want to try out when I can. I also want to try this shortbread. Been thinking about recipes for Christmas actually!! Anyway, typing this one handed with Nina in the other and she’s getting heavy so must dash….. 🙂

  19. mayssam says:

    These must be some of the best cookies I’ve ever tasted! I just pulled a batch out of the oven and have almost eaten a quarter of a pan already! They are delicious!! If you like cookies – and really who doesn’t? – then you should make these asap! Yum!

  20. christelle is flabbergasting says:

    J’arrive ici suite à un tweet de la fameuse Mayssam. Du tahini avec des dates : je dois vite essayer ça !! Et puis, j’en profites pour enfin te féliciter pour ton blog : tes beaux voyages, tes recettes, tout ça donne beaucoup trop envie de cuisiner et voyager plus encore !! À bientôt !

  21. Trish says:

    I was in a Middle Eastern market in the Los Angeles area today and was going to buy pomegranate molasses, but had no idea what to do with it. Thank you for the tip. I am definitely going to try it with halwaha on flatbread.
    Another great post Kerrin!

  22. Kerrin says:

    kelleyn, oooh sesame seed cookies sound great. I wonder if you could even just add dates to that recipe, hmmm. Hope you’re enjoying the weekend !

    Julia, thank you so much. And how perfect that you have a whole jar of tahini, time to experiment ! Oh wow, I just know you will come up with some spectacular baked good, and I already can’t wait to see. But did you say Christmas already ? Oh my ! 😉 I just looked up Beirut Tahini Swirls, never heard of it. That bread looks fantastic. Here’s a recipe for others who are curious too:

    mayssam, I am thrilled that you made these shortbread, and especially that you loved them like I did. The first pan out of the oven didn’t last very long – I was so excited about how good they were, haha !

    christelle, un grand merci ! Je suis ravie que tu aies decouvert MyKugelhopf (merci Mayssam !). J’espère que tu vas raffoler des sablés aussi. Faudra me dire si oui ! 🙂 Bon dimanche et à bientôt alors !

    Trish, thank you ! I like cooking with pomegranate molasses – it goes great with lamb and even fish too, as a glaze or to finish a dish. I use a touch to add dimension to couscous as well. Coincidentally, there was a thread the other day on Serious Eats on the topic, maybe there will be some more ideas there. Let me know what you try, hope you enjoy !

  23. Meeta says:

    so you already know how terribly depressed i am that the JAR is here with me. looks like i’ll just have to bake these on my own – but it would have been grand having them from your kitchen. chocolate + tahini are a winner in my books – you know that already! now i got to try the tahini dates combo too. lovely post!

  24. Emma says:

    I felt that I didn’t have anything significant to comment on last week; i.e., “I LOVE SHORTBREAD” was the best I could come up with. I know nothing about most of the ingredients mentioned in this post… I have so much to learn! But now reading through the comments that have accumulated since a botched attempt at intelligent comment-leaving of my own, I have a few things to add.

    I’ve tried making shortbread with olive oil a few times. I’ve never enjoyed it as much as shortbread made with butter, but I think this is because my proportions have been off, resulting in overly flour-y, chalky shortbread. Maybe the ratio of oil:flour is a bit more sensitive than butter:flour?

    AND! I had no idea what pomegranate molasses was, but this weekend found me back in Boston and at the South End Formaggio. And lo and behold, there was a bottle of it on the shelf. So now it’s on MY shelf and I’ll have to follow some of your wonderful suggestions above. Thanks for the constant inspiration!

  25. Kerrin says:

    Meeta, aha – that empty jar needs to be filled and shipped off to Switzerland if you want it to come back to you full again ! 😉 You can bake these shortbread in your kitchen and I just know they will be divine. Or…. I can always bake them again too, you know. 😉

    Emma, nothing wrong with a good “I love shortbread” shout out !! Sometimes that does the trick. But I’m glad you came back to share more. My money was on you. I have never tried baking olive oil shortbread myself, so I can’t really comment from experience. I wouldn’t have thought that olive oil could be substituted for butter without any other changes though. I’ll have to try one day and report back.

    So glad you discovered pomegranate molasses now too. Can’t wait to hear how your experimenting with it goes… One more reference you can use for ideas is Beth’s site, Dirty Kitchen Secrets. If you do a keyword search there for “pomegranate molasses,” you’ll have a list of her previous posts and recipe ideas – all tempting !

  26. diana says:

    Just beautiful. And gluten free. Many years ago I was at a dinner party and the host served dates stuffed with tahini and drizzled with honey. I have never, ever forgotten those dates. I have eaten many so-called foodie dishes since, but that natural combination was a symphony – and this recipe brings me right back there. I am sharing this with my gluten-challenged friends.

  27. Kerrin says:

    diana, how wonderful that you have held on to that sweet memory of those tahini stuffed dates. (I will have to try the same with honey, sounds fantastic.) And even better that I could bring that back to you. Just imagine having the smells of baking these shortbread in your home too ! Thank you for the lovely comment and for sharing the post too. Hope you all enjoy !

  28. Pippa says:

    Delicious! Over the top!! I found this recipe accidentally. Surfed to your blog because it was recommended for the photography which is wonderful. But I am cook first and foremost and was intrigued by the sound of tahini and dates because I also needed to make a dessert to bring along to book club this evening and the dessert needed to be sort of Middle Eastern to tie in with the book. I’d just been mailed some dates from Qatar which I wanted to use and then…there was your recipe. My book club ladies loved it…so did I! Thank you. I might suggest less oven time because at 15 min the edges were quite baked. Otherwise, excellent instructions.

  29. Kerrin says:

    Pippa, thank you so much for your wonderful comment. I’m so glad you landed on MyKugelhopf – and especially thrilled that the tahini date shortbread were such a hit ! I am so jealous about those dates you were sent ! I need to go get some more and make a fresh batch of these shortbread soon =) As for the oven time, thanks for the tip – everyone’s ovens are slightly different, so it’s always tough to say. Best to simply keep an eye on the shortbread towards the end and take them out before they start to darken too much. Enjoy your next batch…

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